<p>International football stars like Cannavaro, Crespo, Robert Pires and Robbie Fowler get big bucks at auctions for players
What national and club football have not been able to do for the sport in India will possibly be accomplished by a West Bengal-based football league. Christened Premier Soccer League (PSL), the new format is a mix of the English Premier League (EPL), the US-based National Football League (NFL) and Indian cricket’s favourite Indian Premier League (IPL).
Broadcast rights for the league have already been sold to MP & Sylva.
Officials from within Celebrity Management Group (CMG), which has signed a 10-year contract with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) said that in the first year itself, broadcast rights are expected to fetch to the tune of Rs 35 crore (about $7 million). “The rights which have been sold to MP & Sylva will mean that the league will be broadcast in 50 countries,” said Bhaswar Goswami, executive director, CMG.(Click here for table)
While this might still not compare with the 10-year deal that the IPL signed for broadcasting rights at almost $1,000 million, the figure for the PSL is significantly larger than the broadcasting for the football iLeague that earns a broadcasting revenue of over Rs 10 crore yearly.
“Considering that football is still a struggling sport in India, it becomes clear that these are good revenue numbers,” Goswami said.
While the PSL borrows from the EPL, the league concept, the IPL is the inspiration in as much as auctions were held, for six teams. PSL will host six teams from across West Bengal — based in Kolkata, Siliguri, Haldia, Durgapur, Howrah and Barasat. In an auction that was concluded on Saturday, Barasat-based infrastructure and realty company, Uro, bought the Barasat team for Rs 25 crore.
The base price for the Barasat team, was set at Rs 80 lakh. Aajay Consultants bought the Siliguri team for Rs 18 crore, while the Kolkata franchisee was sold for Rs 11 crore to the Camellia Group.
“Iconic” players have been imported from across the world. The list includes Argentine Hernán Jorge Crespo, who was bought by Barasat for $8,40,000. Other players include Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro, English footballer and Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler (in picture), French midfielder and key Arsenal member Robert Pires, and Nigerian Jay-Jay Okocha.
Cannavaro, Fowler and Okocha were sold for $8,30,000, $5,30,000 and $5,50,000, respectively. Each of these players will lead one club as an “icon” player. International coaches like Icelandic Teitur Thordarson, English manager Peter Reid were sold for $2,10,000 and $2,00,000, respectively.
Interesting to the league is the fact that it is looking to replicate the success of the IPL in trying to get a glamour and star quotient to attract crowds. Barasat, for example, is getting India’s football star, Bhaichung Bhutia, on board as brand ambassador. “Bhutia will be our brand ambassador. Our idea is to get a carnival of football to the stadium with Crespo and Bhutia on one team,” said Debojit Choudhury, MD, Corporate Relationz, which handles the Barasat franchise.
Other teams are looking at approaching cricketer and former Indian Test captain, Sourav Ganguly, and Bengali actor Prasenjit Chatterjee as ambassadors. “Yes, they have approached me, and the nature of the partnership is being worked out,” Chatterjee told Business Standard.
Interestingly, the franchisees have been bought by Bengal-based business houses. According to Goswami, bigger corporate names will be engaged for sponsorships. “We are in talk with companies like UB Group and Pepsico for sponsorship agreements,” Goswami said. While talks are still on, the big deals are expected to be in the range of $4,00,00 a year, he said.
According to experts, infrastructure is an issue with the franchisees. “I have my doubts about this venture because while IPL succeeded because of the excellent cricketing infrastructure across the country, Bengal lacks international standard football stadium,” said a member of the AIFF.
Goswami, however, is of the opinion that all the six venues have five star hotels nearby and the stadiums have at least 15,000 capacity. “This is enough for a start. As the tournament makes money, we will invest in infrastructure, which will help the sport in general,” Goswami said.
PSL itself will host 34 games between March and April. For now, the stage, seems set for a new start to Indian football. The sport, however, has had many starts in the past, which have amounted to naught.
That West Bengal is an exception, might just make the fortunes of the PSL.